World Bulletin / News Desk
At least two people were killed and 29 others were wounded on Friday when police fought hundreds of protesters who ransacked the U.S. embassy in Tunisia in their fury over a film denigrating the Prophet Mohammad, state television said.
Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki condemned what he called "an attack against the embassy of a friendly nation".
A Reuters reporter saw police open fire to try to quell the assault, in which protesters forced their way past riot police into the embassy.
The protesters smashed windows, hurled petrol bombs and stones at police from inside, and started fires in the embassy and the compound. A black plume of smoke rose from the building.
One protester was seen throwing a computer out of a window, while others walked away with telephones and computers.
A Tunisian security officer near the compound said the embassy had not been staffed on Friday, and calls to the embassy went unanswered. A Reuters reporter saw two armed U.S. soldiers on the roof.
Health Minister Khalil Zaouia told state media at least two people died and 29 were injured, revising down an earlier toll from state television which said three died and 28 had been wounded.
The protests began after Friday prayers and followed a rallying call on Facebook.
An Interior Ministry spokesman said police were hunting Saif-Allah Benahssine, the leader of the Tunisian branch of Ansar al-Sharia to interrogate him about the incidents.
The moderate Islamist Ennahda movement, which heads the Tunis government, had advised Tunisians against participating in the protest against the crude, low-budget film, made in California and trailed online, which portrayed the Prophet engaged in vulgar and offensive behaviour.
"The (Tunisian) government does not accept these acts of aggression against foreign diplomatic missions," said a statement read on state television. It said Tunisian authorities were "committed to ensuring the safety of foreign diplomatic missions".
Hundreds of protesters wielding petrol bombs, stones and sticks had charged at the security forces protecting the embassy before jumping a wall to invade the compound.
The protesters pulled down the U.S. flag flying over the embassy, burned it, and replaced it with a black flag emblazoned with the Shahada, the Islamic declaration of faith.
Riot police finally drove the protesters from the embassy and the compound, and a Reuters reporter saw them arresting around 60.
The compound was cordoned off by police, soldiers and members of the elite presidential guard, but clashes continued in the el-Aouina district across a highway from the smart Auberge du Lac neighbourhood where the embassy is located.
Marzouki, in an address broadcast on state media, said he had spoke to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and condemned the attack as "unacceptable considering its implications on our relations with" Washington.
"This attack is part of a wider plan aimed at stoking hatred between the people," he said.
But she was heckled by critics in the House of Commons, while opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said her plan was "too little, too late".
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Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades said Monday he hopes to clinch a reunification deal laying out a new security blueprint for the divided island during a crunch summit in Switzerland this week. Anastasiades will attend United Nations-backed talks at the Alpine Crans-Montana ski resort Wednesday with "complete determination and goodwill... to achieve a desired solution", he said in a statement. He said he hopes to "abolish the anachronistic system of guarantees and intervention rights", with a deal providing for the withdrawal of the Turkish army. The eastern Mediterranean island has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece. Turkey maintains around 35,000 troops in northern Cyprus. The so-called guarantor powers of Turkey, Britain and Greece retain the right to intervene militarily on the island. Greek and Turkish Cypriots are at odds over a new security blueprint, but their leaders are under pressure to reach an elusive peace deal. "I am going to Switzerland to participate in the Cyprus conference, with the sole aim and intent of solving the Cyprus problem," Anastasiades said. Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci is also set to attend the summit, which is expected to last at least 10 days. Greece, Turkey and Britain will send envoys along with an observer from the European Union. UN-led talks on the island hit a wall in late May after the sides failed to agree terms to advance toward a final summit. Unlocking the security question would allow Anastasiades and Akinci to make unprecedented concessions on core issues. But they have major differences on what a new security blueprint should look like. Anastasiades's internationally recognised government, backed by Athens, seeks an agreement to abolish intervention rights, with Turkish troops withdrawing from the island on a specific timeline. Turkish Cypriots and Ankara argue for some form of intervention rights and a reduced number of troops remaining in the north. Turkish Cypriots want the conference to focus on broader issues of power-sharing, property rights and territory for the creation of a new federation. Much of the progress to date has been based on strong personal rapport between Anastasiades and Akinci, leader of the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. But that goodwill has appeared frayed in the build-up to their meeting in Switzerland. The Greek Cypriot presidential election next February has also complicated the landscape, as has the government's search for offshore oil and gas, which Ankara argues should be suspended until the negotiations have reached an outcome.
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